Overfishing in the Philippines

By Danny O. Calleja

Overfishing which endangers not only the fishing industry but also livelihood and food security is the major threat in Bicol’s marine ecosystem, according to Greenpeace.

The biggest single threat to the region’s marine ecosystems today is overfishing. Bicol’s appetite for fish is exceeding the ecological limits of its fishery resources, rendering devastating impacts on marine ecosystems, according to Greenpeace Southeast Asia ocean campaigner Vince Cinches.

Greenpeace Philippines has visited the adjoining coastal waters of Burias and Ticao Pass in Masbate province of the Bicol region to gather data for scientific and objective intervention on the problems threatening the marine ecosystem.

The area that covers municipal waters on the southwestern sections of Camarines Sur, Albay and Sorsogon and the entire Ticao and Burias Islands of Masbate is considered the widest fishing ground of the region.

Greenpeace is an international organization working in the Philippines with its campaign to protect and conserve the environment and promote peace by investigating, exposing and confronting environmental abuse and championing environmentally responsible solutions.

“The Bicol visit is part of the peaceful global campaign set out by the Greenpeace to protect and preserve our oceans. We are advocating for changes to ensure that our needs are met without harming our environment,” Cinches said here on Wednesday.

Illegal and unregulated fishing mechanisms especially those used by large fishing vessels contribute to the significant depletion of local resources. At times, the massive fish catch of these vessels in one night is far more than the total weekly catch of ordinary fishers, he said.

Many fishers in the area catch fish other than the ones that they target and in many cases, these are simply thrown dead or dying back into the sea. In some trawl fisheries for shrimp, the discard may be 90 percent of the catch. This is called the by-catch or untargeted capture, the most devastating fishing system, Cinches said.

The incidental capture or by-catch of mammals, sea-birds, turtles, sharks and numerous other species is recognized to be a major problem in many parts of the world.

It has been estimated that a staggering 100 million sharks and rays are caught and discarded each year. Tuna fisheries, which in the past had high dolphin by-catch levels, are still responsible for the death of many sharks. An estimated 300,000 cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) also die as by-catch each year, because they are unable to escape when caught in nets.

This figure includes non-target species as well as targeted fish species that cannot be landed because they are, for instance, undersized. In short, anywhere between 6.8 million and 27 million tonnes of fish could be being discarded each year, reflecting the huge uncertainties in the data on this important issue.

The scale of this mortality is such that by-catch in some fisheries may affect the structure and function of marine systems at the population, community and ecosystem levels. “By-catch is widely recognized as one of the most serious environmental impacts of modern commercial fisheries,” Cinches said.

The impact of this practice along with other unsustainable fishing mechanisms has been affecting the local fish supply, he said noting the continuous soaring of prices but deteriorating quality and quantity.

“The problem is true in the entire Philippines and it is ironic that as an archipelagic country with around 1,707 islands, the fish supply from its oceans is diminishing. Our fishes these days are getting smaller since the larger ones are gone. Even the smaller and younger ones that should not have been caught are sold,” Cinches said.

More often than not, he said the local fishing industry is given access to fish stocks before the impact of their fishing can be assessed and regulation of the fishing industry is, in any case, woefully inadequate.

The reality of modern fishing is that the industry is dominated by fishing vessels that far out-match nature’s ability to replenish fish. Giant ships using state-of-the-art fish-finding sonar can pinpoint schools of fish quickly and accurately.

The ships are fitted out like giant floating factories – containing fish processing and packing plants, huge freezing systems, and powerful engines to drag enormous fishing gear through the ocean. “Put simply: the fish don’t stand a chance,” he stressed.

Instead of trying to find a long-term solution to these problems, the fishing industry’s eyes are turning towards the Pacific – but this is not the answer. Politicians continue to ignore the advice of scientists about how these fisheries should be managed and the need to fish these threatened species in a sustainable way, according to Cinches.

“We need to defend the oceans now more than ever, because they need all the resilience they can muster in the face of climate change whose potentially disastrous impacts are already beginning to produce in the marine world,” he said.

The Greenpeace Defending our Oceans campaign sets out to protect and preserve the oceans now and for the future by setting aside swathes of the global oceans from exploitation and controllable human pressure, allowing these areas the respite they so desperately need for recovery and renewal, Cinches said.

Also part of the team’s local advocacy is a public forum on Overfishing and Ocean Protection on October 25 at Donsol, Sorsogon, the Whale Shark Capital of the World.

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